I ordered a pickup for my baritone ukulele from America on the 29th April. I am still waiting to receive it. (UPDATE: I now have the parcel, 1 month later!)
I was well aware there might be import VAT, depending on what the declared value stated on the parcel was. No problem with that. However, when a letter came through the door stating that there was a £13.50 ‘clearance fee’ from Parcelforce alongside the HM Revenue & Customs £9.44 import VAT, I had a problem. I mean really, since when is a ‘clearance fee’ that is MORE than the actual VAT itself justifiable?
Consider this; Parcelforce HQ is next door to HM Revenue and customs. So when Parcelforce say that they have to ‘take parcels out of the system’ what they really mean is they just pick them up from next door, and sort out a few bits of paperwork, most of which will be done by computer databases. That kind of work is not anything special and will be part of the general work their employees do anyway, which they are paid a wage for. Still, I understand that it costs something to go through this procedure, but £13.50 for EVERY parcel with import VAT?? Holy crap, they must be raking it in.
And raking it in they are. Which is why they’ll do everything in their power to justify their charges. Did you know in most cases a parcel going from one end of the UK to another is more expensive to deliver than one going abroad?
The thing is, you don’t have to pay this ‘clearance fee’. The fact is, Parcelforce create a monopoly by stepping in and paying the import VAT to HMR&C on your behalf, and then charging you the service. You never actually have the opportunity to decide on how you want your parcel dealt with once it reaches customs, which is your civil right. For a contract to be in place both parties have to agree to a service, which is not the case here. The fact they send you a letter threatening to retain or return your parcel to the sender unless you pay is also illegal, as this is considered to be a ransom.
To make matters worse, Parcelforce refuse to hand over your parcel until you pay BOTH the import VAT and their ‘clearance fee’. Legally, under the Postal Charges Act 2000, Parcelforce only have the right to hold your package in lien until you pay the VAT. You do not have to pay the ‘clearance fee’ to receive your parcel, as this service is separate of that which you originally paid for (the postage) and therefore they cannot force payment of both charges under one bill.
The problem is Parcelforce don’t make it easy for you to pay just the import VAT. There’s absolutely no way of doing it online, and they don’t even offer it as option unless you repeatedly complain to them. So I rang up (after trawling through saynoto0870.com trying to find an alternative to their pay per minute line, which is another pet peeve of mine – businesses should offer FREE customer service lines) their customer service line to see how I would go about the paying the Import VAT. The first guy I spoke to was very rude and indignant:
‘Well I’m sorry sir but you have to pay the full amount before your parcel is released’
‘So you’re telling me your company is effectively offering me a ransom, and therefore breaking the law?’
‘Can I speak to somebody who is actually going to help me?’
‘I can forward you to someone but they won’t be able to help you’
This went on for several minutes until he eventually said I could go to my local depot and try and just pay the import VAT there. I asked why I couldn’t just pay over the phone, as I had paid for the parcel to be delivered to my house, so I shouldn’t have to collect it. Eventually he forwarded to me someone who apparently was from the MD department. A woman answers and it turns out to be the wrong department.
‘Sorry sir, I’ll forward you to the correct department’
She forwards me to their main automated hotline. Eventually after pressing numerous numbers to cycle through the options, I get to the bit where I can speak to a real person again – and then the line goes dead.
After which I decide to email them, which I get a swift reply to, containing some legal jargon which (ironically) says I can do exactly what I’m asking to do. I point that out to them and they tell me someone from my local depot will call me to take the payment of just the Import VAT.
I receive a call from a woman from the local depot, who kindly offers to take my payment of £22.94
‘£22.94? Wait, I was told you’d call to take the payment of the import VAT only‘
‘I’m sorry but I can’t do that, you’ll have to phone this number to speak to the MD department.’
She gives me another premium rate number for the MD department. Great. So I have to waste money trying to solve this. So instead I send an email asking them why they got someone to call me who couldn’t help.
A day passes. Two days. No reply. They replied within 24 hours before, so I send another email. This goes on for a week. Eventually after threatening legal action numerous times, and telling them I would just send out a cheque for the VAT in exchange for the parcel, I get a reply.
The email says someone from my local depot will call me to take payment. Great, here we go again! Thankfully I get the call and (despite trying to get the full amount off me first) they did let me make the payment for the VAT, and said I would get the parcel the next day.
So, for the sake of £13.50 I spent a month trying to retrieve my parcel. Was it worth it? Kinda. I’m glad I stood by my principles anyway. The way Parcelfarce and other couriers are carrying out these practices is illegal, and people need to stand up to it!